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J.A. v. Miranda

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 1, 2017

J.A., A MINOR, et al., Plaintiff,
v.
ALEX MIRANDA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge.

         Pending in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Alex Miranda, Travis Boggs, Charles Lieblich, and Rory Sugrue, and Montgomery County. See ECF No. 26. The issues are fully briefed, and a hearing was held on August 29, 2017. See ECF No. 40. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On June 17, 2015, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Plaintiff Johana Abrego called 911 to report that her son, Jospeh Abrego (“Abrego”), was burglarizing her home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ms. Abrego's other son, sixteen year old Plaintiff J.A., lived with his mother and was home at the time. Unredacted Compl., ECF No. 9-1 at 4. Officers Alex Miranda, Travis Boggs, Charles Lieblich, Rory Sugrue (“Defendant Officers”) arrived around 11:45 p.m. and arrested Joseph Abrego. Joseph was injured during the arrest but is not a party to this suit. Id. at 4-5.

         While the officers were arresting Joseph, J.A. was in the living room video recording the incident on his cell phone. J.A. was unarmed and at no point did he threaten the Defendant Officers. Id. at 5-6. While Officer Miranda was walking Joseph out of the home in handcuffs, Miranda shoved J.A. who fell onto the couch and lost control of his cell phone. Id. at 6. Officer Miranda then grabbed J.A.'s arm and pinned him in a seated position on the couch. Id. at 6. Almost immediately thereafter, Officer Boggs wrestled J.A. to the ground and handcuffed him. Within several seconds, one or more of the officers hit and kicked J.A. in the face and/or mouth. Id. at 7. Because he was being beaten, J.A. could not specifically identify by name each particular Officer who kicked or punched him. See ECF No. 30 at 17. Defendant Officers then placed a bag over J.A.'s head and zip-tied the bag around his neck. The Defendant Officers then transported J.A. to the Montgomery County police station. ECF No. 9-1 at 8. On the way to the station, J.A. found it hard to breathe not only because of the bag over his head, but because blood continued to pool in his mouth from the beating he had received. Id.

         That evening, the Officers charged J.A. with the criminal offenses of obstructing and hindering and two counts of second-degree assault. Id. at 9. The following morning, J.A. was released to his mother. Ten days later, all charges against J.A. were dropped. Id.

         By preventing him from recording his brother's arrest, J.A. alleges that the Defendant Officers failed to follow a written Montgomery County Police Department (“MCPD”) Policy on Citizen Videotaping interactions, FC No. 1142, dated January 1, 2013. Id. at 11. The Policy provides, in pertinent part:

Individuals have a right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties. The right to record is not limited to streets/sidewalks and includes areas where individuals have a legal right to be present. Examples of places where individuals have a legal right to be present include, but are not limited to: an individual's home, business, or any other property where the person has a right to be present.

Id. Ms. Abrego subsequently filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Police Department's Internal Affairs Division (“IAD”) which prompted a brief internal investigation. J.A. characterizes the investigation has “perfunctory and inadequate.” Id. at 12. Despite claiming to have closely examined all pertinent information, IAD did not attempt to interview key witnesses or gather key pieces of information. Specifically, IAD did not make any contact with two non-officer witnesses to the events: Joseph Abrego and another minor child who was also present. Id. IAD also did not request the video recording made by J.A., despite being told of its existence. Ultimately, IAD concluded that Defendants had committed no wrongdoing. Id. at 11. J.A. also alleges that the Defendant Officers' conduct stemmed from a Montgomery County Police Department pattern or practice of indifference toward individual's rights based upon “numerous recorded and unrecorded complaints of police interference and/or obstruction of citizen recording through intimidation or force.” Id. at 12.

         As a result of the beating, J.A. sustained at least two broken teeth, four loose teeth, a lacerated lip, a concussion, a cut to the back of his head, and bruising on his neck and wrists. Id. at 9. J.A. required significant dental work, some of which he is still unable to afford. Id. at 9-10. Due to his injuries, J.A. has not been able to play soccer and his grades have suffered, hurting his college prospects. Id. at 10. J.A. also sustained emotional and psychological injuries as a consequence of the beating. Id.

         Johana Abrego thereafter filed the instant suit on behalf of her minor son, J.A. (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”) against Alex Miranda, Travis Boggs, Charles Lieblich, Rory Sugrue, and Montgomery County, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of J.A.'s constitutional rights.[2] Specifically, Count I alleges unreasonable seizure against Miranda only; Count II alleges excessive force against all officers and Count III alleges unlawful arrest against all individual officers; Count IV alleges violations of J.A.'s First Amendment freedom of speech against all officers as well as Montgomery County. On January 30, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss Counts II through V of the Complaint on several grounds. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         “To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not ‘forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those 10-CV-2851 AW, 2011 WL 4501372, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 27, 2011) (explaining that under Maryland law, police departments are agents of the county and therefore cannot be sued as a separate entity). elements.” Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable, ' the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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